Navigating the remote working challenges of Covid-19

In an emergency, is it better to stick with what you know or take a risk?

Trafford Council is the local authority of the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. It is a metropolitan district council, one of ten in Greater Manchester and one of 36 in the metropolitan counties of England. It provides the majority of local government services in Trafford.

Read on to discover how BlueFort and Pulse Secure worked with Trafford Council to mobilise their workforce and navigate their way through Covid-19

The situation before and the catalyst for change:

Like many organisations around the world, Trafford Council was looking to digitally transform its IT infrastructure, and was starting a digital transformation programme to make it easier for customers to access its services. By re-engineering and automating workflows, and streamlining customer interactions through self-service, the team at Trafford Council knew that digital transformation would transform the way it worked and the services it offered.

A key element of the preparatory work was to understand how its employees were accessing applications, when they were accessing those applications and critically, from which location they were accessing them - in the office, on the move, or at home. 

In parallel, the team at Trafford Council were almost ready to press the green light on a Windows 10 rollout which, for most staff, meant a laptop upgrade and the option to work remotely more often, and for longer periods of time.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with employees needing to work from home, the priorities for Trafford Council’s IT teams changed in an instant.

Jon Thomson, Head of IT Operations at Trafford Council explained, “IT is a key enabler for all of our services, but for some services it’s absolutely critical.  Our number one priority was to keep our core critical services up and running, regardless of where the team was based. We had to mobilise those members of the team - and fast.”

How BlueFort helped:

 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a small number of Trafford Council’s team required remote access to the IT infrastructure via Pulse Secure’s Remote Access VPN. Peak usage was fairly low - on average around two hundred people per day. 

With nearly all of its employees now working remotely, Trafford Council needed a solution that provided access to around ten times more users than its current technology licence would allow.

The solution:

 

In the months leading up to the initial lockdown, the IT and BlueFort teams had been assessing a range of potential alternative connectivity options, but all that fell by the wayside on March 23rd.

Jon Thomson said, “When in a code-red situation, you need a proven piece of technology, that’s scalable and resilient. We had confidence and faith in the BlueFort team and the Pulse Secure platform. Neither had let us down thus far, so we decided to stick with what we knew - a technology that is robust, scalable, and simply did its job.”

The first thing the BlueFort team did was to establish a Pulse Secure ICE (In Case of Emergency) licence for Trafford Council whilst they set up more permanent licences for the team to use.  This emergency licence enabled Trafford to instantly address the dramatic peak in demand for remote access by supporting additional users on physical and virtual Pulse Secure PSA Series appliances. 

With the lion’s share of the work taking place over what the team described as ‘a very long weekend’ within 10 days Trafford Council was able to scale up to provide reliable resilient access for 2100 employees with an average daily usage of 1500 users. 

What happened next:

 

Throughout April, Jon and his team at Trafford Council got to deploy laptops to staff within the council’s critical service areas of and as a result, many of their users were fully set up to use the Pulse Secure VPN technology.

A key benefit of the Pulse Secure VPN is that it is very user-friendly, with many of the security checks happening automatically without the user even being aware. Given that Trafford’s staff have varying degrees of IT literacy Jon was keen to continue with a platform that employees were comfortable with and confident using.

With the UK facing regional lockdowns at very short notice, Trafford Council is confident that all their users will now be able to work securely and efficiently wherever they are.

Jon Thomson concluded, “Considering the unprecedented demand that BlueFort Security and Pulse Secure were processing for literally hundreds of users, we experienced minimal disruption. We were well supported by both teams and the result was that none of our critical services suffered, and all our users were able to work remotely very quickly.”

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